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16 January 2020, Gateway House

NEST-ling new tech in foreign policy

The recently announced New and Emerging Strategic Technologies (NEST) Division of India’s Ministry of External Affairs is timely. It can become vital for India’s national technosecurity in the imminent Fourth Industrial Age if a new Cabinet Committee on Futuristic Science and Technologies is established along with it

Fellow, Space and Ocean Studies Programme

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India’s Ministry of External Affairs (MEA) has apparently established a new ministerial division called New, Emerging and Strategic Technologies (NEST),[1] an innovative addition to its existing organogram[2]. Innovative, because at no point in time – with the exception of cyber diplomacy and nuclear, chemical and biological weapons disarmament – has the MEA dedicated an entire functioning unit to cutting-edge science and technologies.

The criticality of an MEA division like NEST is now apparent in the recent clash in India between choosing 5G telecom equipment of Chinese origin or of non-Chinese origin. It has exposed India to the grey spectre of growing global technopolitical bipolarity. It has validated a new dimension of modern conflict – first, that it is not fought between standing armies, but between belligerent futuristic technology systems, and second, that technology systems, and the manufacturing and service industries emanating from them, are becoming flashpoints.

Not much is known about the divisional team that will lead NEST, its budget or its precise mandate. But it is likely to become a foreign policy sentinel for the Indian government to understand emerging tech, particularly the current domains of Artificial Intelligence, robotics, nanotechnology, genetics (for example, genome editing CRISPR technology) or next-generation telecommunications. It can also merge technology policy with foreign policy as technologies are converging to create disruption with drastic regional and global geopolitical consequences.

India does not want to remain vulnerable to being used as a sandbox for foreign players to test and operate their dual-purpose (i.e. assistive and antagonistic) technologies on its citizens or within its territories. It must therefore meticulously scrutinise the imports and assimilation of emerging technologies into the nation’s defence and civilian research and development infrastructure. The most crucial assessment must be of the control, ownership, and beneficiaries of the entities that want to export or invest in India’s high-tech sector. Therefore, NEST’s announcement is timely.

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In recent years many countries have introduced or strengthened regulations to safeguard strategic sectors, mostly in new and emerging technologies, from overseas investors with potentially inimical intentions. The U.S. in 2018 introduced an amendment to strengthen and expand the scope of its Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States of America (CFIUS)[3]. The CFIUS is an inter-agency group, authorised to examine certain inward foreign investment in the U.S., and determine its impact on national security[4]. Earlier this year, the EU adopted a new framework to enable its member countries, many of which already have existing mechanisms, to screen foreign investments coming into the EU and ascertain their impact on security[5].

With NEST, India joins this set of watchful nations. The division is important, not only for the MEA, but can also be a key element in the entire security policy conveyor belt, comprising three Cabinet Committees – on Security, Economic Affairs, and Investment and Growth.

To make NEST truly effective, the formation of an allied, new Cabinet Committee on Futuristic Science and Technologies can be of huge significance. It can have the participation of ministries which possess strategic scientific R&D infrastructure (refer Image 1). NEST’s analyses and recommendations can then be amalgamated with those of other ministries in this cabinet committee, which can comprehensively review imported technologies, build and evaluate domestic technological capabilities, and create a robust export portfolio of emerging technologies.

Nestling NEST with a Cabinet Committee on Futuristic Technologies will offer long-term technical, economic and strategic gains for India.

Chaitanya Giri is Fellow, Space and Ocean Studies Programme, Gateway House.

Amrita Menon is Management Associate at Gateway House.

This article was exclusively written for Gateway House: Indian Council on Global Relations. You can read more exclusive content here.

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References

[1] Chaudhury, Dipanjan Roy, ‘MEA sets up emerging technologies division’, Economic Times, 2 January 2020,

https://economictimes.indiatimes.com/news/politics-and-nation/mea-sets-up-emerging-technologies-division/articleshow/73063773.cms

[2] Ministry of External Affairs, ‘Organogram of Ministry of External Affairs’, Government of India, 19 December 2019, Retrieved from the MEA website, https://mea.gov.in/Images/amb1/MEAOrganograms_de_2019.pdf

[3] Jackson, J.K. & Cimino-Isaacs, C.D., ‘CFIUS Reform: Foreign Investment National Security Review’, Congressional Research Service, 3 October 2019, https://crsreports.congress.gov/product/pdf/IF/IF10952

[4] Department of Treasury, ‘The Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States, United States Government, https://home.treasury.gov/policy-issues/international/the-committee-on-foreign-investment-in-the-united-states-cfius

[5] Rosario, D. & Malinowska, K., ‘EU foreign investment screening regulation enters into force’, European Commission, 10 April 2019, https://ec.europa.eu/commission/presscorner/detail/en/IP_19_2088

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